“Oh hi, Finn. Say hi to Finn, Ada,” the mom gently instructed her one-year-old as our children climbed around each other on the gym mats.
“This is Lochlan …” I said with a small smile.
Her cheeks blushed, “I’m so sorry,” as she scrambled to catch her wobbling toddler, “He looks just like a Finn …”
I looked down at L as he ducked through a tunnel and smiled at me on the other side. He does look like a Finn too. A little spunky with a slight tint of auburn to his brunette locks that are just starting to push through and curl. Rounded cheeks, long lashes, and a full toothed smile at only 15 months.
She tried to continue to apologize and say something about still getting to know the kids, etc. But I stopped her with a smile.
“Actually, I had a Finn – Finnian,” the name felt at home in my mouth, “we lost twins before him. So Finnian was his brother.”
“Oh I am so …” she started but I stopped her, “no … thank you … I imagine they would look a like so it’s nice to hear.”
The gym teacher, who knows our story because we chat often, smiled and asked, “What was your daughter’s name again?”
“Maisie,” I said feeling full.
“Gosh you have such great names!” The teacher rubbed her pregnant belly and I felt proud.
You could tell the other mom was beginning to relax that she hadn’t actually made an awkward moment and that all was well. And we laughed about the kiddos trying to figure out the social graces of passing each other on the tumbling equipment.
I thought - I’m really doing okay at this mom and loss mom thing. The whole incident felt like a God-nudge, see they are still connected to L, they are all siblings.
I pushed the stroller up the sidewalk before slowing pace behind a mom and her son. Our little dog pulled forward a little like, hey let’s keep going.
The boy was holding his mom’s hand and swinging it around. With his backpack slung over her shoulder, she was listening to him chatter about his day. She peeked over her shoulder, “Oh there’s a little one behind us!”
“Excuse us we will just scoot around,” I said as she pulled to the side and we smiled. Her son poked his head into the stroller and exclaimed, “he’s so so cute, oh he’s so cute, I just love him.”
“Okay,” she said kind of pulling him back and giving me somewhat of a sorry and pleading look. I could tell he was somewhat precocious and probably prone to over-crowding others. So I smiled at him and said, “thank you he is so cute. You’re sweet.”
We pushed ahead and the boy shouted at us, “what’s his name?”
So I looked over my shoulder, “Lochlan and this is his friend Oreo.” He then asked my name so I told him while I continued to walk just a few steps ahead. The boy continued to chatter telling me his name, his mom's name, his dad’s name and his sister’s name.
“What a nice set of family names,“ I said. His mom looked at me grateful kind of shaking her head. L peeked around the stroller fascinated by the older boy. The air was perfect and nearly fall like. Other kids were zooming past on bicycles, backpack clad and heading home from school. Our little dog was trotting along with a happy pant.
“I assume your married, so what’s your husband's name?” The mom’s eyes widened and I kinda laughed. “Yes I am, his name is Daniel, pretty simple.”
“So Lochlan is a boy right,” they were side by side with us now on the sidewalk, “so does that mean he has a brother or a sister?”
“Oh,” my voice stuck as the boy looked right into my eyes, “he doesn’t have a brother or a sister ..” and it caught, here, I couldn’t get it out before his mom started to explain …
“That’s their first baby, see some families only have one and some just have one to start…”
I started moving faster ahead. I’m sure she thought I was running from them.
I was. But not because of him. Because of me. I pushed across the crosswalk and turned the corner as fast as I could. The air felt stuck in my lungs. I won’t hyperventilate.
I won’t say I made it home without tears streaming down my face. Or I didn’t pretend I was laughing when L turned around in the stroller. I won’t say that I didn’t talk to my husband and that my voice didn’t disappear into a fit of tears. I’m failing them. "Of course you aren’t," he reasoned, "you are doing what is right for the situation." He’s right - you can’t tell random kids on the street about dead babies. And L doesn’t know they were his siblings. He can’t comprehend that. May never. He IS growing up as the oldest child, essentially a first.
But the thought just sat in the pit of my stomach all day, I’m letting them disappear.
I can remember the first wave of grief after bringing L home from the hospital. I laid him down briefly in his crib and looked down on him. It hit me with such great force that I did not have siblings for him. I wept for his lost brotherhood. Raging postpartum hormones didn’t help me to put into perspective that we would try again. At this time, I had considered him our last, our youngest, our planned third.
But as he would grow and change and monopolize more and more of my time, the waves of grief would spread. I’d often take a deep breath and push across the surface of them, surfing into a place of joyfulness in order to parent my living son. Then, somewhere in the last few months, as his independence has increased little by little, I’ve had moments to feel the spray of water. I’ve had secret cry sessions in the bathroom. I’ve felt the absence of his siblinghood.
If things had been different, if they’d made it to term, Finnian and Maisie would be turning two this month. If things had been different I would’ve said, “Oh no, this is Loch, Finn is his older brother.” Or “He has a brother AND a sister, how fun.” If I close my eyes and imagine the three of them together the chaos seems delightful to me.
I’m not sure why I’m sharing these stories now other than to illustrate the ongoing nature of infant loss. After we lost our twins I sat across the office from a well-respected counselor that specializes in perinatal issues. And she reminded me that pregnancy and infancy loss falls under the category of ‘marginalized grief.’ Meaning the hidden or unexpected nature of it often pushes it to the outskirts – the experience is not uncommon but it is not mainstream either.
This particular type of grief is often quieted under guilt. My guilt stems from a nagging thought that somehow acknowledging it discounts the profound happiness that having our son here offers. I don’t talk about it as openly in my daily life anymore. Not in the way that I imagined I always would. I’m often afraid my grief will somehow make me seem ungrateful. Or that it will somehow shadow him.
I also don’t feel it in every moment like I used to. That acknowledgement carries with it a different kind of weight to process. But that’s just the reality of how time moves us forward. When the grief does come though, when it rushes in, it’s like torrential downpour again. Only to be lifted once more by the breeze of daily life. And so it goes and goes and goes.
People who parent after loss are heroes. Some already had children that they continue to care for and others go onto have children after their loss. Either way, I look at the bravery it takes to put one foot in front of the other, to love with your whole heart even when it is broken, and to be completely vulnerable again.
Children make us vulnerable in ways I couldn’t understand before going through the process of pregnancy … and loss … and pregnancy again. They stretch our human capacity for love to its limits, showing you what it truly means to love someone so much more than yourself. Someone who is their own person and will (hopefully) go on to live their own lives full of adventure and people. Or, as is my case and many others in the perinatal loss community, someone who wholly and completely steals your heart but whose life is out of your hands.
The utter vulnerability of it all can be terrifying. And yet, this is the human experience. Love and community and heartache and repair and repeat, repeat, repeat. Any loss mother I have talked to has told me the same thing, “I would do it again just to be able to love him/her.” I think that speaks to the power of the love over the loss' crippling pain.
Tomorrow I will be 25 weeks along with our son. He’s been kicking more noticeably lately. Swishing around alive, completely alive. We’ve had two growth scans so far to check on his progress and he remains on the big side (97th percentile!), which is a blessing in case he comes early. Each day that passes at this point adds an additional 3% survival rate. I celebrate him daily. I take moments throughout the day to really focus intention on my gratitude and joy about his life.
And now, as we pass more milestones of survival chances, the idea that I will get to parent him, actually parent him, becomes more and more a possible reality.
It’s this reality that has me looking around at all those parenting after loss. At the way they handle the biggest job in the world even when they’ve already lived the biggest fear in the job.
I was speaking with a mother who very recently lost her son midtrimester about how she was coming a long in these first months. Everything is jumbled and messy for her – when to take time to grieve, how to take care of her other daughters, how to move forward or not move forward. The familiarity of her grief is potent to me. But she also said that when her daughter is scared, she reminds her that her brother can help her be brave because she gets to do all the things he didn’t do. He will be there for them. He has not disappeared. He will be a reminder of grace and strength and bravery. Her ability to seamlessly blend this into conversation with her girls impresses me beyond end.
Another dear friend of mine lost a son midtrimester a year before our loss. She now has a second young son. Every time I see him he fills the room with joy. He is immeasurably joyous and adored. He shows the face of a child that comfortably knows his parents love him. And yet, my friend still yearns for her first son. She still wonders daily what it would be like to have them both. Each time she puts an outfit that she had purchased for him on her living son she tells him it is a hand me down from his brother. I love this. I know that one day she will run out of hand me downs, but the conversation will have been started. In a small way, the boys will be allowed to be siblings regardless of the distance between them.
I find these simple acts heroic. In the face of the greatest grief, with courage and humility and love, they continue forward. And not by replacing or forgetting or denying but by integrating and allowing space for their children and still feeling both sides of joy and pain.
I'm still thinking of ways to tell our son about his brother and sister. I’m still working through how to describe his mom’s ability to be completely in love with him and completely yearning for them. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that he will not live as the youngest of three but an only child or the oldest (possibly). I’m still picking up the broken pieces of my heart so they don’t fall into his lap.
I can’t wait to meet him. Part of me believes that when I do, I’ll know better how to be the parent he needs. When I see his face, I’ll know how to do these things too. Because I will be their mother and his, and he will need different things from me. And I’ll use every bit of me to be the best for the three of them.
This is not the story I imagined for us. But this is our story.
We are entering a new season again. The holidays are here. Everywhere. I’m trying to wrap my mind around the next couple months. Trying to figure out what survival tactics are needed, how to calm the anxiety, how to reconcile the longing feeling, how to replace the plans I had with the ones I get.
We started our stimulation medication for IVF the week after Christmas last year. I can remember leaning over to Dan after we had stuffed ourselves with a third family Christmas dinner and saying, “This could be our very last year without babies.” Those words hang in the air even now. They didn’t float away with hopeful wistfulness, they hung heavy settling into the couch waiting to be fulfilled.
I wanted twins. I wanted both embryos to take. I wanted everything that came with loving two and logistically caring for two. Twins felt like the ultimate reward – the absolute reason this had to be so hard was so that we could end up with two. The day after we saw both hearts flickering on the ultrasound screen I began planning for the holidays.
The babies were due in September so the holidays would be their first adventures. I earmarked an easy to carry play yard for Dad’s lake house at Thanksgiving, smaller portable bouncy chairs to take to Mom’s, a sturdy playpen that could double as bassinettes for overnight at Dan’s Dad’s farm. I researched ways to tandem breastfeed - how to do it in public or was it better to pump before gatherings. I decided to throw myself full-fledge into twin-momdom and put coordinating Christmas outfits and Halloween costumes on my Etsy to buy list. It was early to be planning, but I didn’t care – all my dreams were coming true.
Until they didn’t. Until we lost them. There are days even now, seven months later that I still remember with absolute clarity the exact moment each little body was handed to me. I can remember my body labor-worn and bleeding crashing against a bed to be handed the most delicate humans I’d ever seen. There are moments where I can still see my daughter’s heart beating and I cry out – why couldn’t we save her!
This year for Halloween, I put up our decorations, I oohed and awwed at people’s baby costume pictures on Facebook, I emotionally prepared to smile at each person that came by … until I just couldn’t. Moments before the doorbell rang with trick or treaters I turned all the lights out and wept. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up on Halloween and decided to try harder for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, I swapped out my fall decorations for Christmas ones. It’s a week early but I wanted to get it done. I moved things around from last year. But it still feels the same. Nothing feels externally changed – everything is proceeding like normal. Because we never had a Christmas with them. We never had a Thanksgiving or Halloween. So the worst part of this year is that everything is the same as always.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this. While everyone is posting articles and queries about how to get through the holidays post political upset, I’m just trying to figure out how to hold it together when asked what I’m most thankful for. I’m just trying to practice my happy face. I’m wondering what to do if I start crying when we hand out presents. I'm staring at the only ornament that indicates that they were here.
In the grief world we talk a lot to people about how to create new traditions to survive holidays after the loss of a loved one. We talk about ways to keep their memories alive during the season. We talk about the right to choose whether or not you want to celebrate at all. I remember all of that being incredible helpful after we lost my sister and Dan’s mom. But losing babies is different.
They were going to be the changed tradition, the new memory, the extra logistics needed. And even though the table is set the same as last year and the tree has the same number of presents as before … it feels incomplete, not enough, heartbreakingly missing something.
I started writing in this blog to suss out my own experiences after losing our twins. To examine the grief at arm’s length and share it with anyone who needed to hear it – anyone who needed to borrow my words to describe their experience, or understand the experience of someone else they loved. After we passed the due date the writing seemed to wane. Each time I sat down I had nothing new to say except it still hurts. It feels really awful. I miss them so much my innards quake. And even with moments of hope and love scattered here and there the words I would’ve written the last couple months wouldn’t have healed either of us.
But today I wanted to remind us that the holidays are about family. At least in my world they always have been. We never discuss politics at our holiday gatherings but apparently many families do – I’d encourage you to put it aside. Put it aside and remember who might be missing someone.
The holidays are hard for many people anyways. This year is gut-wrenchingly the hardest for me yet. I tell our story above because I will still look normal on the outside. This season I will decorate and celebrate with family, because that is all I have. That is all most of us have.
But honestly ... if someone just gives me a hug and says they wish my babies were here too I might just explode in gratitude.
Hello friends, I took a hiatus from writing last month but have received several recent encouragements to get started back.
We traveled at the beginning of September and then took the rest of the month to settle into our new reality – which is actually a non-changed reality - A reality in which we do not have to figure out how to juggle two newborns and all their needs. Our house is still quiet. That’s the thing about infant loss or pregnancy loss. On the outside your life seems unchanged, but you were planning for major changes. And when they don’t come … you just feel lost. Lost and sad and quiet and kinda lacking purpose.
There is an old Patty Griffin song that I used to play on repeat: Making Pies. The song has a sweet somberish sound with an undertone of bravery. The lyrics tell a story of a woman making pies instead of caving into her grief (at least that’s how interpreted it). My favorite line “You could cry or die or just make pies all day. I’m making pies.” Oh Patty, me too.
I have actually, literally, started making pies. I'm staying at home during the day and often baking a pie. I’m fortunate enough that my husband is able to take care of our living needs – so I’m “breaking” from school and work. The advice to take a step back from social work while I try to recover makes absolute sense. My work and study require my heart to be strong, it requires me to put my pain on hold so that I can hold someone else’s pain. (Side note: Hug a social worker if you can. There is not shortage of self that they are giving in their work.)
I can’t give that right now. Some days I want to – I miss working. I miss helping others. I’m bored a lot of the time. I actually cannot remember a time in my life where I haven’t worked, volunteered, or gone to school in some time consuming combination. But, I’m forcing myself to recover, to gently glue the pieces of my heart back together so it can hold. I’m also working on gluing those pieces together so we can hopefully open our hearts again. In the process I think I can learn to be better in my work …
Also, I think I am becoming a better human. Loss does that. It breaks us and forms us and builds us. Strange, but true. I wouldn’t pick it though. But unfortunately, I can’t unpick it now.
The truth is, I still cry a lot. I spent a lot of life being strong. I spent a lot of the last decade and a half standing up to the pain of loss. I spent a lot of hours being bigger than my grief. But losing my babies … it was just cratering in a way that I can barely put words to. I feel so incredibly broken inside. But also, I feel full. Broken and full. Love does that – makes us bigger.
In the healing space, I’m practicing holding both things: love and pain. It’s true of all loss though isn’t it? We learn to hold the weight of our love and our pain. We practice over and over until we are recovered. I don’t expect to fully recover until this life is over, but recovery is a lifelong thing any way. At least that’s what I would tell a client … so I’m gently telling myself. Every day, every step, a little closer. The bravery is in letting both things exist (love and pain) without feeling like you have to get rid of either to be healing.
So in the meantime, I’m making pies. It takes time, concentration, and I feel good about the outcome. When I need an hour or so to escape – I’m putting my hands in the dough, stirring the raspberrys or apples or cream or peanut butter (for Dad), or pecans (for Mom) and appreciating the ability to make something.
I didn’t cook or bake much before we lost the babies. So I’m learning this as I go. It’s new. It’s yummy. My husband loves it. I’ve picked up a couple other hobbies/self care activities too, but this is his favorite.
“I could cry or die or just make pies all day. I’m making pies.”
I’m interested to hear what new thing you began after your loss? Did you make something? Create something? Or start doing something different? Change an exercise routine? Please share … maybe it will inspire another griever with something that they could try while learning to live this new life after loss. Feel free to post a comment here or on the blog Facebook page: Facebook.com/lossandlife
As the days of August draw in, I am ever more aware of the cracking in my heart. The aching has not subsided but is actually throbbing more and more as we approach the period when my pregnancy should’ve concluded, when my babies should’ve been born, when life should’ve been right. Yesterday, I would’ve been 34 weeks pregnant and my twins would be born some time between now and September 7th - in an ideal world that is. But they were not, will not, are not going to be. It continues to hurt more.
My husband and I are leaving for vacation next week – dog and house sitter are set. We will be gone through the bulk of our “due” weeks (twins shift a pregnancy from due day to a range of days). I’m going to take a blogging hiatus during this time since my energy is lacking. I may return with more blogs, perhaps a slightly shifted focus off the intensely personal and more on grief knowledge. Maybe not, maybe I will be even more introspectively sharing. We will see what happens after we get through these next few weeks.
I have always told my clients that it is important to follow what heals them. I'm taking some healing space. I'm exercising. I'm journaling. I'm crying. I'm laughing. I'm creating memorials. I'm being kind, gentle, and understanding towards myself (as much as I can remember to be). This next season is for healing ... not healing away the broken heart, because it will always be there, but finding a way to live in the joy of having loved, and continuing to love, my children so much. I love Finnian and Maisie so much.
It is still incredibly unhelpful for people to tell me they imagine us having other kids. The insensitivity and invalidation of thinking that will somehow erase the longing for the two we already have stings every time someone makes the suggestion. It will always be more helpful for people to tell me that they remember my twins and to ask me about them, than for people to tell me they just know I'll have another baby.
You would never tell someone whose mother had died:
“Maybe you’ll get a new mom soon,”
“I heard a wonderful story about someone who had a rainbow mom after their loss,”
“I dreamed you were hugging your new mom and you were so happy.”
"Once your new mom is here you will feel happy again."
"A new mom will make things better."
It would be weird. It would be as though you assumed their mother was replaceable with any other mother. It would be as though you thought having a living mother would stop the griever from missing the mother that they already had.
That said, for those who are deeply troubled by the idea that we will somehow stop our journey to raise living children: we intend to try for more children, probably sooner rather than later. We are greatly aware of the challenges that lie in this. We know that there are many variables to consider and many challenges to face. But we are hopeful.
We will consider any future children siblings of Finnian and Maisie. Our heart will expand to love them just as it would have if their brother and sister were alive to greet them. We would never have taken some love away from Finnian and Maisie to spread to the other kids – we would just grow more love.
While love and grief are totally intertwined, one does not erase the other. I am open to opening my heart to more love, because I believe it has the capacity to hold both intense love and intense grief simultaneously. I am open to more love, even if I am terrified of more grief.
Thank you to all who have been reading along the journey. It will always be a goal of mine to connect with other's grieving, whether here on this blog or in whatever next career step I take. The most helpful thing for me to remember is that while it won't ever be okay, I am not alone. You are not alone. Living is in the connecting.
I slipped into a numbness pattern this week – a lack of motivation, wish the days were over, kind of dragging. I’ve admittedly done a lot of napping. I know this is a phase of grief. I’m coming down, or up, from something. I can’t put my finger on it or name it just yet. This post is a little less clean ... more a compilation of thoughts, revelations, loose experiences from my notes over the many weeks since my twins died.
Grief is messy, unclean, non-linear. Grief is different every day, hour, minute. Grief doesn’t just look sad, angry, shocked, bargaining, or accepting. Grief encompasses every emotion. Grief buries itself into all parts of your life. Grief strokes each moment that you live without them.
Grief is dreaming in too many colors or no color at all - dreaming with fear and reliving death, or dreaming with visits and hopefulness.
Grief is opening your eyes, staring at the ceiling or the wall and remembering what your life really is. Grief is rolling over and trying to sleep for another few minutes, another hour.
Grief is everyday negotiating whether or not to nurse your own broken heart or to honor their memory by living.
Grief is mascara stains on your pillow. Grief is letting more tears fall then you knew you could produce. Grief is puffy eye sockets, red-rimmed and bulging.
Grief is running out of tears. Grief is dry numbness when you explain what happened.
Grief is having a different kind of day every day, all while doing the same things over and over. Grief makes the minutes feel long but the days seem short.
Grief is recognizing the exact shape of your physical existence.
Grief is feeling fuzzy brained, struggling to converse, forgetfulness absence from the moment. Grief is painful awareness of silence.
Grief is forcing a smile. It’s listening to yourself talk to people from some inner echo-ey hole, detached. Grief is struggling to listen well to others.
Grief is experiencing moments of truly being alive and then turning around to see a mirror that reflects someone other than you. Grief is realizing your reflection is forever changed.
Grief is realizing that your heart held more love than you imagined. Grief is feeling the borders of your heart as it expands and breaks.
Grief is needing someone, anyone, to agree that things will never be okay. It’s needing people to just tell you that you are not alone, that they are with you, that it’s okay that you will never really be okay.
Grief is knowing that, no not everything happens for a reason, no something better will not come of this, and no I don’t have an option to not “be strong.”
Grief is knowing that even if life is beautiful, even if you use your pain for some greater good, that it would have been just as beautiful (or more so) if they had lived. Grief is accepting that fact and still choosing to live kindly and bravely and with honor for them.
Grief is rehearsing a new way of living until it becomes familiar enough to cover your scars.
Grief is knowing that time is divided, your identity is divided, your self is divided into before and after they died. And not just because time moves forward, grief doesn't care about time, but because you can clearly outline the eras of your life based on their existence and their absence.
Grief is loving with every ounce of your being, despite separation. Loving is living - loving is the whole point of living. Grief is still living. It’s just messy living.
Feel free to comment – to add what grief is like for you or what 'grief revelation' you have had. Every experience is unique and the only way we can get closer to understanding the expansiveness of life after loss is to talk to each other about it.
As the weeks of summer have passed with the aching slowness of a heat wave, not a lot has changed since we lost our babies. I’m giving myself healing space – I’ve taken a hiatus from my coursework and stepped back from providing therapy. Writing here is healing. Being completely, utterly, bold-faced honest about each week is healing. But the healing is building only minutely. For every second that I feel confidently up is another second that I am devastatingly down.
This week has felt largely emotional. I think for multiple reasons the waves of grief have crashed over me and I have felt the weight of it in my bones. I spent weeks laughing and forcing myself into life’s moments; weeks choosing to show the joy my sweet twins should be known for, instead of the pain caused by their absence. This is still my goal, to live in a way that proves their light … but this week my pain, my heartache, my longing has filled every pore of my body. My eyes have been leaking non-stop. The salty tears fall around the corners of my down turned mouth. My contacts are so blurred with salt deposits that the world looks as foggy as it feels. But I accept this – crying is as much a part of my humanity as laughing is.
Today marks 16 weeks since my sweet babies left this earth. It also marks 16 weeks since they entered the earth. Baby loss is a unique loss because it intertwines the experience of new life so closely with the experience of death. I think all losses have component of realizing the importance of life – the delicate balance of your heartache with what your heart loves. Grief will always be a balance of pain and honoring their life by living ours. Baby loss just intensifies this notion because pregnancy is full of new life promises, full of planning and dreams and growing life.
Losing my infants has made me hyper aware of how deeply a heart can love. Becoming a mother changed me. My heart expanded in ways I did not know were fathomable. I am learning how to understand that and also comprehend the intense pain of having it taken away as soon as it arrived. The depth of my grief is slowly chasing down the depth of my love. But I will always love them more than I am pained by their loss. That feels like an absolute truth.
Tomorrow will be the doubling point of the length of my pregnancy. I find it difficult to breathe when I think about this. Their existence was short ‘in the scheme of things.’ In the big picture of life, we were only given the joy of them for mere moments. But I’ve learned something about love … it doesn’t care. Love doesn’t care how long you have known someone. Love doesn’t create depth based on familiarity alone. The kind of love you feel for your child - when you look down at their tiny nose, their little feet, their precious fingers wrapped around the tip of yours - the love you feel then is shaped by so much awe that it sends roots immediately down through your core. Finnian and Maisie are deeply rooted in my soul. I feel so much love I could burst.
And yet in a couple days I will have lived their loss longer than I lived their life.
This fact alone has convinced me of one thing:
Time does not erase the pain as much as it doesn’t not determine the amount of love we have for each other. Time is merely a marker between our last goodbye and our hopeful next hello. Time will breed familiarity with the feeling of their absence … so that we become better acquainted with living in a world without them. I’ve learned that in other losses. That’s the only “better” there might be.
Love does not care about time as much as time does not control how and if and when I feel anything, for better or worse. My love for those two humans, my love for Finnian and Maisie, is infinite. It is without the bounds of time. 16 weeks is meaningless in recounting the lifetime that I will spend loving them, even without the gift of holding them or seeing their faces light up, or attending their school functions, or watching them fall in love, or kissing the cheeks of their future children. My babies will never have those things… but I will love them with the same intensity as though we had experienced it all together.
Throughout my pregnancy I sang them the chorus from the Dixie Chick’s song, Lullaby. I’d walk around with a hand on my belly singing. When they were born, I held them in my arms and sang this song to them over and over; until I kissed their little foreheads goodbye. And we engraved this lyric on the box that holds their remains:
“How long do you wanna be loved,
is forever enough?
Cause I’m never, never giving you up. “
I am forever their mommy and they are forever mine.
Grief is big. Love is bigger.
And right now, that’s the only thing I am really, truly sure of.
We have spent the month of July surrounded by family and water. We’ve visited both my parent’s different lake houses and travelled north to play in the pool with my nieces and brother and sister-in-love. The water is refreshingly cool in this heat. The sun pushes with humid forces against our skin, the pressure mimicking the weight my heart feels most days. But the water feels light and I still float.
I have been laughing with my family. I’m mostly an extrovert by nature – I gather energy from being around others. I’ve let that energy flow through me in the moments that we have spent time with our family and friends – I laugh. I laugh hard. Sometimes I laugh so hard it appears that there is no brokenness, sometimes the laughter blasts from my lungs, past my vocal chords, and escapes in a burst of joyful sound. I have a good laugh.
I’ve also been laughing on purpose. After my sister was killed, I was afraid that my laughter meant that I was not hurting enough. Or at least that was what others might think – I know I was hurting. I’ve spent my entire adult life grieving her. At some point, I learned that laughter was actually a sign of conquering death; a sign of refusing to let the monsters win.
Since the twins have died, I’ve tried to force myself into moments of laughter. I never want their lives to be remembered as the thing that broke me … because I never want them to be remembered as anything less than wonderful. Even when it doesn’t appear to be so, my life is currently a balance of survival. I am working to express the memory of the joyfulness my twins brought to my life and I am woefully, heart-brokenly, living their absence. The waves are still ever-present, unpredictable, and difficult to describe. Every moment I am conscious of living without them. Living and being without them. Being alive, living each moment, and not having them. Every moment I am aware of this.
This weekend I was talking to my sister-in-law, also my dear friend, over coffee on our second morning visiting. Sitting at her kitchen table, she told me about recognizing my ability to laugh still. She mentioned that it was good to hear, that even when she visited for the memorial she noticed how I could get swept up and laugh with the family. She started to say, “It’s almost as if you’ve forgotten for a moment...” and then she said, “no … that’s not right … it’s as though … I’m not sure. But it’s good to hear.”
I knew what she was trying to say. It’s almost as though I am okay. But she knows the brokenness in my heart. She has sat and cried with me. She has held my hand and wept for my babies. She watched me hold them in the hospital. She has listened to me recount over and over the fears, the devastation, and the missing. She is also still grieving the loss of her mother (in addition to her niece and nephew) … so she get’s it. She knows that no amount of laughter can get her further away from missing her mom.
So we sat for a second, both knowing that there is a paradox in life after grief. Loss often makes us appreciate each moment more fully. We live each second knowing there are no guarantees. Each moment of laughter is an act of survival.
Death did not steal my laughter - it couldn’t, because living is my best representation of the joy present in loving. Death did not steal my laughter because death could not remove Finnian and Maisie from my heart. Death did not steal my laughter because death cannot separate my love from them. Death has done many things – it has kidnapped a lifetime of memories from us, it has left us bruised and aching, it has filled our nights with longing dreams and nightmares. But despite death separating our physical bodies from each other, it could never, ever take away the joy of having known them. Death cannot stop me from loving them more with every one of my own heartbeats, therefore it cannot have my laughter.
Next week I will share more about the balance … Maybe I’ll tell you about the dream Monday night that reminded me to leave room to feel the sadness. This week, however, my oldest niece has been staying with us. She travelled back for her annual visit. A good friend and colleague reminded me “Enjoy your week! Plug into her innocence and life and hug her tight!”
I have been doing just that. We have been playing and talking. She talks about Finnian and Maisie. The first day we visited her home to pick her up I sat with her sister and her by the pool. I was showing my nieces pictures of our dogs on my phone (they love the dogs!) and when I scrolled past a picture of the babies the littlest one said, “Oh how cute! Is that one Maisie?” They had seen the pictures at our small memorial. They remembered the babies. We spent 15 or so minutes looking at other pictures. They talked about their cute toes and Finnian’s little nose. Death doesn’t scare them. They see life. Their acceptance and grace is so beautiful.
My oldest niece has mentioned the babies again several times this week and she asked me a ton of questions about Rachael while we were driving to our next fun place to visit. I don’t let my eyes well with tears in these moments. I answer all her questions with a smile so she always knows it’s okay for us to talk about them, because we love them.
Death didn’t steal my laughter, because it could not erase their life.
I sat across from a pregnant friend of mine for a small dinner and catch up. Her eyes welled with tears when mine did – our due dates are the same (her full term date and when we expected the twins).
She told me that she wanted to do more for me; That she has cried repeatedly when trying to decide whether to call or give space, that she debated sending me all the wine and chocolate and flowers in the world, that she wished she could “wrap me in bubble wrap” to protect me from any more hurt. She also told me that she has been afraid because I am a reminder of her own biggest fear – one of her children dying.
Her heart is beautiful and open. I’ve also had a similar discussion with a few of my long time best friends on different occasions. They want to do something for me but they don’t know what to do or say, and they grapple with the giant scary proposition of imagining what would happen if their child died.
This got me thinking about what exactly it is that I want or need as a griever. Truthfully, the women who have had these discussions with me have all provided the exact things I have needed (the biggest things). Here are the top three things I’ve needed as a grieving friend:
1. To be reminded that I am remembered and not alone.
When my friend tearily told me that she wished that she could do more, I responded “But you did the one thing I asked you to do – to let me know you were thinking of me. You have done so at random but with consistency since the twins died.”
Do not underestimate the power of a simple text saying, “I’m thinking of you” or “You’re on my mind, hope today is a good day” or “Thinking of your babies today.” These words can remind the griever that they are not alone even if they have isolated themselves. The thing about needing space is it only feels good if you are given the opportunity to choose it – leaving someone alone because you think they need space just creates the feeling that they are forgotten.
The griever is less likely to “reach out to you when they are ready” because they have an internal emotional meter that makes every action feel bigger and scarier before they were grieving. So reach out even if I don’t respond, or I respond with a simple “thank you”… because when the time comes that I don’t need space, or I want a dinner, I will know that you are safe to go to.
2. To feel like my loved one is known.
In the years since Rachael died, 99% of the non-family people in my life have never met her. This fact use to terrify me – “what if no one ever understands who I am because they never see this huge part of me!?” But over time, I have had multiple friends tell me that they feel like they know her through me. I talk about her. I tell stories about her. I want her to be known. Hearing that they feel as though they do makes me feel better, as though I have done my job keeping her memory alive.
The same is true of the babies … although their lives were shorter, although I am the only person who held them alive, although only our parents and sisters saw their faces – I still have so much I could tell you about them. I am so grateful for the friends who have let me repeat stories about ultrasounds and who I thought they would be. I don’t cry when I tell these stories, I laugh and smile and feel the joy of their lives again. We feel joy when we can share our loved ones and by listening and trying to know them you share that joy with us.
3. Permission to grieve as long as needed.
I know that I have talked about permission before. We live in a move- on culture. We live in a culture that believes you are not healing unless you are picking yourself up, swallowing the bad feelings, and moving on. But grief will last as long as love does.
Each death changes us in some way – an important relationship was removed from our lives, parts of our identity are entwined with our relationship to that person, and new information about how life works is being integrated into our personal framework. The best thing for the griever to do is feel all the emotions.
In my opinion, healing is the process of becoming who you are going to be now that you no longer can hold your loved one. That is hard and it takes a lifetime of negotiating new circumstances without them. Give your grieving friend permission to take as long as needed. Tell them “it’s okay if you are sad” or “it’s okay if you are mad” or “it’s okay if you are not okay.” They are going to be those things anyway, but you telling them that you are okay with it removes some of the shame or guilt of feeling like they “should” be better now.
Tip for the griever:
After reflecting on dinner with my friend, I realized that I am receiving what I need in my closest relationships for two reasons. One is the fact that my friends want to know how to console me. I believe that most of us want to “be there” for our hurting friends and family, but we often don’t know how. So instead of asking, many people try to assume the best way to meet your needs. The other reason is that I am open with what I need in my new grief.
This is my tip to the newly grieving or hurting person. You have so much on your plate it seems unfair to pile anything else on, but this is a simple one (even when it doesn’t feel that way). Just say, “I need you to tell me you’re thinking of me;” or “I need to talk about my loved one for a bit” or “I need to know it’s okay if I cry.” If you can just get out that one line of whatever your need might be, I have a feeling that your consoler will meet it – because they have been wanting to all along.
Today my darling babies have been gone 13 weeks. This upcoming Monday my sister has been gone for 13 years. The balance of numbers is not lost on my heart. I have not moved past counting. In part, because the progression of time carries such shock with it – the clock continues ticking, whether I watch it or not, whether I can feel it or not, whether it should stand still or not.
In all the time that my sister has been gone, we have not forgotten her. We still think about and talk about her in my family. In 13 weeks, I still mention the babies every single day to anyone who will let me.
A few weekends ago we were spending time at my Dad’s lake house. The sun was shining bright, we had all been in the water, and swigged a beer or two. A friend of his pulled a boat up next to ours and tethered to the side. I was not up for socializing with anyone new. It had only been weeks since the twins had died. My heart still sore and achy, my eyes still three seconds away from leaking, I didn’t want to talk to anyone that didn’t know. So I flipped over on my tummy and let the sun stroke my back.
My dad and youngest sister plopped on the seat across from us and talked to the lady on the adjoining boat. She was a friend of a friend so she did not really know my Dad’s story (or ours). I was laying on the seat in between letting their words fly over me.
In the typical small talk way, the woman said, “so you have just the two daughters,” to my Dad. She was about to tell us about her children, her 4 living children and her 3 grandchildren. She wanted to share about her life and all the living people.
“Actually no,” my Dad said without skipping a beat, “that is my oldest daughter, Tiffany, and she has a sister one year younger that died and is in heaven, Rachael, and this is my youngest daughter, Samantha.”
I lifted my head to look at his face. Perfectly calm and with a smile like any father introducing his children.
“Oh,” the woman said with an all too familiar uncomfortabl-ness that strangers tend to wash with when you tell them someone has died, “I am so sorry.” You could tell she wanted to fall through a hole in the boat. She had no idea what to say next.
“It’s okay,” my Dad, said with ease, “I just never want to say I have 2 daughters when I have 3.” Then he smiled and the conversation moved on.
I lifted my head and stared at him behind my sunglasses. My heart stuck in my throat, both in pride and in hope. Hope because in this whole world my biggest fear is that my children will be forgotten. That only I will ever talk about them. That if I mention them people will sink into a hole or run the other direction or I’ll be the quintessential ‘debbie downer.’
But the truth is, Finnian and Maisie are not erasable. They are imprinted on my heart, and their presence, even though brief, was still very real. And it is okay for me to let other’s know that. My parents, both my Mom and my Dad, never let Rachael be erased. She couldn’t be. And they proudly mention her name with the same bravado that they say Sam’s and mine – with never wavering, irreplaceable, un-erasable love.
IF I have more children, I will follow my Dad’s lead and there were always be a +2 to that number, and I will say “it’s okay, I never want to say we have 2 when we have 4.” (or whatever that may end up being). And even if I don’t, if by some twist of fate these are our only children – We will always have 2. And I will never say we have 0, when we really have 2.
If you are a fellow griever I hope you are encouraged too – talk about your loved one, say their name, mention they lived. We can do so with a smile. We can do so in the way we mention our living loved ones. We can change the dialogue around death – so that it isn’t the end; because it isn’t the end in our hearts. They live as long as we do … we know love lasts at least that long, and probably longer.
Earlier this week I re-posted an old blog post – A Note to New Grievers. When I wrote the post I was in a very different place than I am now. I wrote the post in 2013. Ten years after my sister’s murder. 3 years before my twins died.
When I stumbled on it again it was like reading one of those time-capsule letters. You know, the ones you used to write and bury for your future self?
I found myself reading the lines:
“I can attest that it (grief) will change, it will become bearable, and you will change with it. The suffering of it will end. There will be days that your heart wrenches when you wish they were present to experience a piece of life with you - but eventually those will be mere moments in the scope of your life. You will not be crippled by this painful loss – not permanently.”
And thinking – is that true? Did I really feel that pulled back together?
I miss my sister, Rachael, even now... well, especially now. Whenever things get really hard I miss her extra. I wonder about where she would be on the journey to making a family. I wonder how she would hold my hand through this.
But, I’ve grown accustomed to missing her. It’s woven into the fabric of my daily life. I know how to miss her and move through the rest of my life.
The twins … I can’t breathe sometimes I miss them so much. The weight of their loss sits like an anvil on my chest. It feels crippling. It feels life altering. It feels … like this is the new forever.
But what if my former words are true?
What if this too will fold in, become part of who I am, and I will move again with ease?
What if the longing and the missing become less?
No … I will always long, I will always miss.
Just as I do Rachael, but more.
More because your children come from the most intimate parts of your heart.
Because your children have true pieces of you.
Because losing them is legitimately losing part of yourself.
I’ve been reading through countless grief sites. Story after story about loss and living without your children. Stories about infertility struggles. Stories about kissing infants goodbye and holding funerals for children. Stories about how people overcome or learn to live again.
I’m devouring these stories. I want to know about the men and women who went before me. I want to know how the grief settles. I want to see the beauty in the terrible wreckage.
The end of A Note To New Grievers recounts the Anne Frank quote:
“Think of all the beauty still around, and be happy.”
So here it is (for now) some of the beautiful things I have seen in this painful time:
Five things for now. I’ll do my best to keep my eyes open for more – even if I see it through the cloud of tears – I’ll look for the beauty for my babies. I'm not quite at the "be happy" part yet. But, I’ll look for it because their lives brought joy, and they are the most beautiful thing of all.
This has been a hard week. Before you read any further know that I am down today. This has been a ‘wish I could stay in bed with the covers over my head’ kind of week. This has been a ‘can’t stay under the covers for more than a few seconds or I’ll suffocate’ kind of week.
Nothing in particular happened – other than my children dying 10 weeks ago.
My children died 10 weeks ago.
Even if I space out the words the weight of them still feels like a punch to the gut. Nothing happened this week in particular to make that feel any bigger. That isn’t true either. I can find all kinds of little triggers from this week, but there isn’t one big thing that I can point to and say “that’s what knocked me off, right there.” I had a pretty great weekend just before this. I went out with a friend, I celebrated my Dad & husband, I ran, I played at the lake, I laughed … I was, for the most, part UP … up enough to have my daily cry and move on to engaging in other things.
Then, in the middle of the night Sunday, with no warning, I sat up, clammy and anxious … that panic feeling radiating through my sternum. You know the feeling? Like an internal tremble. I kept swallowing. Then I remembered the first few lines of C.S.Lewis’s A Grief Observed:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
Nothing in particular happened this week, except my grief did not get smaller. Even when I write here … even when I give permission … even when I show all my scars … I’m still just trying to rush to the end point. I’ve been desperate to get to the part of the story where some meaning is made.
For years, I chased a need for new identity and a way to turn the awful loss of Rachael into something. I pointed my career in such a way to say, “this horrible awful thing happened, but I won’t let the bad guys win, I’ll help people instead.” I found a way to make meaning – not one that would EVER make it okay that she was gone, but one that allowed me to feel purpose in her absence.
Then our infertility struggle hit. Through months of tears and needles and disappointment my husband and I fought side by side to try to create a family. And the beautiful day that we found out we were pregnant with twins – the story made sense. How else could we end up with two beautiful children at once if not for this way?
I remember naively thinking, “all the bad things are officially over in my life.”
If I have learned anything about grief, especially fresh sweltering grief, it’s that what goes up must come down. I previously mentioned the waves – the inconsistent crashing of grief washing over you again and again. It doesn’t feel any less shocking though. One day you are breathing a little easier, you think perhaps I’m settling in. You think, perhaps my new normal is adjusted and I’m doing just fine. But then the roller coaster plummets with a gut drop. Not the ‘throw your hands in the air’ kind but the ‘swallow your gum, hope you don’t choke’ kind.
It’s been that kind of week.
I’ve secured the appropriate grief supports. I am surrounded by people who have been through similar pains. I have the books. I know the songs. I practice the breathing techniques. I use creative outlets. I freaking know how this works. (I’m yelling at myself here).
But that doesn’t change it. As much as I tell myself I should be better at this, all things considered, I should be a “better griever,” I am not.
There are simply not enough comforts to make the ache stop completely – not even for the most faithful, most hopeful, or most practical. We cannot escape the experience of grief. It is as intertwined with the experience of life as living itself.
I don’t have a cheery message today. Except that if you are going through this, if you are in it, know that you are not alone. If you are experiencing a down day, or week, or moment – it isn’t because of an inability to grieve well, it’s because this is what grief is. There is no getting around this broken heart, except to live it. I am in it today.
Today, I looked in the mirror and reminded myself that I am human. I am human and my heart is broken. No amount of knowledge, no amount of experience, no amount of understanding or self-will or magic is going to change that. I just have to live it.
I looked at the mirror image and said, “You have to live the broken heart.” Swallow again. My dear friend, one year ahead of me after a similar loss, keeps reminding me to take it one day at a time. One day at time, one foot in front of the other, one second to the next. Even when I want to fight moving forward because it separates me more from them. Because 10 weeks have gone by, and I still desperately wish for backwards time travel.
Swallow again. I’m just going to get through the next 24 hours. In the end, what goes down usually comes up; maybe next time with less bounce. Maybe next week, with less bounce.
When I say, “I miss my babies”
it isn’t in a way I’ve missed before.
It’s as though the corners of my soul were cut off.
It’s as though the most intimate, truest particles of my heart
It’s as though my brain lost the magic in its waves
but instead of flat lining –
it kept going.
I miss them in a way that makes me feel
altered, incomplete, unwhole and irrevocably changed.
And in the depth of the missing,
in the longing,
I realize that my soul grew larger when I carried them.
I realize that my heart had more particles
and that my brain had entertained in new ways.
I realize that they have expanded my capacity for love.
Their absence is an echoing reminder of the new largeness within my heart.
I love them in ways I could never have explained.
Now when I hear the words of other mothers saying
how much they love their children,
I understand why ‘love’ feels like a nearly insignificant descriptor.
I understand that words could never really encompass
the depth, breadth, or width of connection to my children.
So, with simultaneous strokes,
I am missing and loving in opposite directions.
I am expanding.
I am bigger in this weakness.
I am unendingly tied to them.
The shortness of their lives,
the brevity with which they existed on earth,
the length of time we were given,
is not comparable to the intensity with which I know, feel, and experience love
and missing them.
They were more than a flicker,
more than a flame,
and I wish the world had gotten the chance to know them like I did.
I wish that you had all seen their faces too –
not the photoed version, because it lacks truth –
but the one burned in my brain.
I wish this because when all I have are the simple words: “I miss my babies,”
you wouldn’t want to cock your head to the side,
pat my shoulder,
and with a small frown say, “I know.”
Instead, you would be awe-struck,
as though the words could express justly what it means to miss them.
You would feel breathless, encountered by searing truth.
You would feel emblazoned with understanding.
And then …
in the sun rising,
in the rain falling,
in the mundaneness of hours passing …
I would still miss them.
you could put your hand on my heart
and feel the edges of my torn soul
and they would be missed the world over.
Then the love for them would bounce through the skies,
and land like a kiss on their cheeks
blown from an impossible distance
unfazed by the separation of time or space
By Tiffany Kann
This is my husband’s first Father’s Day. Of course, we expected my stomach would still be big and round on this day. We thought we would be excitedly preparing for the twins arrival in a few short months. I had a gift planned out for Dan (I’m still going to give it to him) that he could use with the babies. We will still celebrate him because he is still a father.
He is still a Father. Dad. Daddy.
Before the twins died I was talking to a classmate of mine who was working on a qualitative study about how fathers feel after stillbirth. At the time we never thought anything would happen to our own children. But I listened intently as this Dad/fellow classmate explained to me the way society often bypasses fathers after infant loss. He told me about how he had lost a baby and the message he repeatedly received in her wake was that he needed to be strong and take care of his wife. Rarely did someone ask him how he felt about being a Dad.
I remembered thinking about how I wanted to be really intentional in recognizing how much of a Dad my husband already was through our pregnancy. It was important that he knew that his role started before their birth and that I recognized it. So often, we assume a Mom becomes a Mom when she gets pregnant and a Dad becomes a Dad when the baby arrives.
But, Dan did all kinds of fatherly things for them while I was pregnant. He maxxed out their college fund. He bought a Spanish children’s CD so he could learn with them. He checked on me all the time. He carried a soccer ball around the house prepping for Finnian. He imagined what things he would tell Maisie so she felt adored. He talked about where he wanted to take our family during the summers and what kinds of cars he would get the kids. And not just in an imaginary sense, but in a future budgeting preparation. He made sure every craving of jalapeno poppers, strawberries, lemonade, pasta, or burritos was immediately satisfied as though the order came straight from the kids. He attended every single doctors appointment. I will never forget our first ultrasound. D clutched my hand as we waited to find out if we had one or two healthy babies. Then he said, “That’s the heartbeat!” Before me or the nurse saw it. I will never forget the sound of excitement in his voice. That sound rang through my ears through the whole pregnancy – in all our life together I had never heard quite the sound of that fearfully excited wonder from him.
Dan’s only access to the twins was through me until their birth, until he held them gently in his arms. I will never forget the look on his face in the hospital – the way his lips curled in pride as he looked at them before cratering into tears. I remember the way he gently kissed their heads and told them he would always love them. I remember listening to his whisper and hearing the furious rush of love behind his words.
Still, more people reached out to wish him condolences after the loss of our dog than our twins. Rarely does anyone (except other grieving fathers) ask him about the babies, or his experience with it all, or even how he is. And he doesn’t reach out about it. He’s generally quiet anyways. And men grieve differently. D went right into ‘do’ mode after the twins died. He tore up our deck and put it back together. He made over the yard. He threw himself into work and began producing more. He started making plans for trips. He is training for a run. He is doing.
My own Dad has been grieved for 12 Father’s Days this year. He also went into do mode in his grief for many, many years. He will talk to me about memories of Rachael or what happened or how he wished things were different. And hovering under his words, unsaid, is simply “I miss Rachael.” I know he does. He misses her every single day.
In the hospital, my Dad was the last to leave the day I was admitted. On that first day we didn’t know what would happen. The prediction was that we would likely lose Finnian but that I may stay in the hospital 3 months trying to nurture Maisie. At one point the staff did an ultrasound to see how both the babies were. I could only see my Dad and Dan standing side-by-side looking at the screen. Grandfather and Father side-by-side watching the tech check for heartbeats and movement. Finnian had lost all his fluid but had a strong heart beat. Then they panned to Maisie and she too had a strong heart beat. As the tech focused in on her, Maisie wildly bounced (as she often did) and both Dad and Dan jumped and said, “Did you see that!” Patting each other on the back and excitedly talking about our sweet girl …. This is one of the last visuals I have of being pregnant.
My Dad was also the first to arrive the next day when I went into labor. He showed up at 4:30 in the morning to be a support to Dan and me. A few short hours later he was consoling us. He reluctantly and with absolute despair inducted Dan into the grieving father’s club. He hugged him and kissed my forehead. And then he told us how proud he was of both of us as parents. We are both parents.
If you know a man that had a child or infant die, they are grieving this Father’s Day. Please take a moment when you see that Dad to pat him on the back and tell him their child was so lucky to have them.
“Finnian and Maisie were so lucky to have you.”
“Rachael was so lucky to have you.”
And then wait while he clears his throat … he might talk to you about it, he might bring up a sports team, he might swig his beer, nod is head and move on. But you will have told him in a very simple way that you remember his children, that you recognize he is a Dad still, and that he is a damn good one.
I've been writing so much in the last few weeks. It is hard to know what to share, what to mull over, and what to keep for myself. But, in the end the goal of restarting this blog was to be open and raw in case someone else needs to hear the words pouring out of me. In case, by some chance, in some way, this is how I can continue to share the love that Finnian and Maisie brought to this world.
After we lost Rachael, I wrote a lot poetry. I stopped writing as much poetry after college, after her case was resolved. Just a poem here or there but not with any intentional editing. In the time that I did write though, the poems just flooded my senses. Recently, the same thing is happening... especially in the mornings, when I sit with my coffee and think about what I wish I could tell the twins, or if not them directly what I could say about them. Robert Frost said, "Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words." I think that is true. Here is one of the poems I wrote this week. It is but an attempt to explain why I keep writing right now.
More Than Words
If I could express how much I love you,
If the words could cascade from my mouth
like a raging waterfall
desperate to reach the ground -
over the cliff of my lips,
like torrents of water
shaping the earth with the message
of how much, how strongly, how deeply
my love runs for you -
If the words could begin to shape
the exact size of my love for you,
if they could carry the weight
in a way that would
create a bridge over the chasm
Then maybe, this endless hole in my heart
that runs through my core,
would not echo with such deafening
If my words, imperfectly stated, could still reach you
then maybe I’d hear your response,
if even in a dribbling,
slight swooshing sound,
like a gentle creek
in the voices I long to hear,
Maybe the sky would open,
maybe heaven would sit lower
beneath the clouds
so we could whisper back and forth:
“I love you, baby”
“I love you, mommy”
and every word ever said
would not have been truer
by: Tiffany Kann
I've been thinking about this idea a lot this week – ‘give yourself permission to grieve/feel/be ok/be not ok.’ It is a very therapist-y thing to say and it is definitely something that I have told clients. With all things we tell clients, most social workers know that it is easier said than done. But … you will also hear this idea from veteran grievers, especially those who have lost a child. In person and from the blogosphere it is apparent that child loss is undeniably, inextricably entwined in the lives of parent’s unfortunate enough to live it. Children cannot be removed from the heart. Moms on every corner of the internet share how the thought of their son or daughter, no matter what age or way or reason they have died, remains etched in their minds daily.
I’m still learning to be a part of this group – I, like all the others, am not here by choice. This grief, this new grief that has taken over my life, has me learning again all about the way loss reshapes you. Despite having lived through the violent, traumatic loss of my sister and discovering ways to stay connected to her while negotiating a life without her presence; despite spending the last decade participating in and facilitating grief groups; despite working with grief and studying traumatic loss … I am not prepared for this tangled group of emotions surrounding my children’s death. So I’m giving myself permission to feel them.
What does that even mean? Permission seems like such a strange word in regards to emotions. Emotions happen regardless of whether or not we wish them too. Emotions are also not inherently good or bad, they are simply representations of the way our body or soul is reacting to whatever circumstance or thought is presenting. We can’t necessarily control our emotions (though we try to) but we can control our actions. So why do we say ‘give yourself permission to feel’? Permission insinuates an authorization granted. I think of it as creating an internal space and allowing the feeling to fill you.
In my last blog I mentioned the wonderful support system of friends and family that have given me permission to grieve. Their permission isn’t because they have the authority to tell me whether or not I can feel, but because they create space for me to express the emotions in this, whether that is through talking, crying, or even laughing.
I’ve noticed that people either struggle with feeling bad or they struggle with feeling good after loss. I think we all struggle a little bit with both, because our minds take over and tell us we should or should not be feeling that bad/good. We worry about what that feeling means about us. We worry the feeling itself is indicative of either our inability to heal or conversely if it is too good, our lack of love for our lost child. I do a little bit of both myself and I noticed it this week. So I took time to give myself permission to experience each feeling fully.
My husband and I went on vacation this weekend. Packing my bags felt bittersweet because I knew that we were only able to go on this trip now because I am no longer pregnant. As we were getting ready to leave, my Mom reminded me to “allow yourself to feel happy and enjoy your husband.” My mom is a veteran griever. She misses my sister all the time and she still wells with tears when she talks about wishing Rach were here. But my Mom also is a constant reminder that we have to accept joy too. So I took her advice. And I laughed a lot this weekend. When the thought of guilt arose I mentally granted myself permission to feel happy. My laughter was not an indication of remarkable healing after Finnian and Maisie’s death. It wasn’t a denial of their constant presence in my mind. My laughter wasn’t even an admission that it is “okay” for them to not be here. My laughter was simply the expression of joy that still exists when spending time with my husband.
During our trip, we enjoyed each other’s presence, we talked about anything and everything going on, and we reminded each other of our unwavering dedication to survive all the hard things together. It was exactly what was needed and I’m glad I had the permission to feel it.
But … it didn’t end there of course. We didn’t return with a miraculous feeling of having shed the grief. Monday evening, after wading through the pregnant bellies on Facebook, and thinking about all the babies and twins we had seen that weekend – it hit me how much I wanted them back. I want Finnian and Maisie back. I can’t have them, but the longing doesn’t go away, not even a little. At first, I tried to fight the tears back not wanting to “ruin” our momentum. Then I remembered to give myself permission. D looked at me surprised when he realized the tears falling again and our conversation went like this:
D- “Are you okay? Did something just happen?”
Me – “I think I just need to be sad for a little bit.” I surprised myself with this statement.
D- “Do you want me to sit with you or give you space?”
Me- “I don’t know.”
And so he sat with me. And I cried. I cried with a sore heart. I cried with an empty belly. I cried until the tears just stopped on their own. It wasn’t an indication that I was falling apart. My tears didn’t mean that I am undeniably broken or dismantled. They meant that I miss Finnian and Maisie. And I allowed myself to feel every inch of missing them in those moments. My wonderful husband also granted me permission by not trying to change it or remove the pain. That is not easy for him. He grieves differently. But he let me anyway.
I’m going through it. I never liked the description of grief in stages or phases. It doesn’t fit what I have experienced or witnessed. Other mothers have described the grief as coming and going in waves. This seems like a more accurate description to me. Only the waves are not rhythmic like the ocean. These waves crash, cascade, and drizzle without rhyme or reason. They come and go in an a-rythmic, non-linear, unpredictable manner. I hear this spreads with time … that the intervals themselves change. I’m still becoming. I’m still integrating this new identity into my life. I am the mom of twins that died at birth. I don’t know how long it will take to weave these fragmented pieces of the new me together … perhaps a lifetime.
I think of Finnian and Maisie every single day, usually for most of the day. So much of the time I feel robbed of my life with them - my thoughts vacillate between dreams of what our time together should have been like and realizations of what our time together was. Despite all this pain, I am full of love. I am full of so much love it makes me feel swollen.
People have been very supportive for the most part. I am grateful to have wonderful family and a few close friends and colleagues that have given me permission to grieve openly, tearfully, and passionately. Because I am so very grieved. Others are very well meaning - telling us the babies are angels, that we will have future children, and that eventually everything will be okay. For the record, we don't believe the babies are angels; we do believe they are humans and that they went to heaven. Sometimes I wish I could just stop people and tell them to pleeeeeaaassseee work within my belief system when talking to me right now. I'm not always that way; I'm usually more open to hearing what different people think and how that is comforting for them. Just for right now, regardless of what you believe, sit with me in the way that I do, because I'm trying to heal and there are too many voices.
Also, there may be future children, but they won't be these children. These two babies are irreplaceable. My heart may expand, my love may increase, my hope and joy may return ... but it will always be tinged with the sorrow that these two are not there. Please know that my longing for them will not go away, when or if I have another child. You might disagree, you might have more experience than I do, or you might just have a way of seeing the future - but this is my reality: every second of every day I want them. I want their specific DNA, their bodies, their laughter, their tears, their little voices saying my name, their little arms around my neck, and that want is SO big I just cannot imagine it ever changing.
I say their names every day - Finnian and Maisie. I find different ways to work it in. During my pregnancy, I wrote to them in a journal and in the last two weeks I have started to do so again. I don't know how it all works, but I love to imagine them receiving the letters one day. It helps to talk about them and to imagine what they would be like - I always try to connect it to the things I knew about them in utero. Their personalities were different than each other and more apparent each time we saw them. We have many pictures of them too. I look at them every day, just because. I would love to hear you say their names. The sound of them brings joy to my heart and reminds me that they are remembered and cherished.
Longing and love are the bulk of grief, and the rest is muddled confusion, pain, and deep sadness. There are moments I cry so hard my body wretches uncontrollably and screams escape. Other times silent tears travel down my face or my throat clenches at the simplest mention of babies. If calculated though, these moments don't make up the whole of my day. I do laugh a little everyday. My husband continually makes me smile. Things are not so destroyed inside that my whole life is wrecked. I am re-engaging slowly with work and friends. I'm reading a little and writing a little each day. I'm still making plans. I smile. I shower. I'm still living - not just surviving but actually choosing to engage life.
That is what life is like right now. I think of Finnian and Maisie every single day, usually for most of the day, and my heart aches with loss and love. I don't have a lot of insight to share at this time... just a glimpse into what life is like 6 1/2 weeks after my sweet twins were born and died.
I started this blog a few years ago. We were approaching the ten-year anniversary of my sister’s death. Rachael’s absence and the way in which we integrate the loss into our lives has been a defining characteristic of my family. We don’t accept that she is gone, however we have learned ways in which to thrive despite not having her here everyday. When my husband’s mother died she made sure to teach each of us how to die with hope and grace. Her legacy further encouraged my ideas about grief – it is connected to the amount of love we have and love does not end after death. The goal of Loss and Life was to explore these thoughts and to hopefully share with others ways in which to live after loss.
Of course, as with all things extracurricular, my blog took a back seat as I worked my way through my MSW and the beginning part of my PhD program. But I am back today … today it has been four weeks since my precious twins were born too early to survive in this world. My son and my daughter – a most harrowing loss.
I’ve wanted to be a mother since before I was 10 years old. When asked what do you want to be when you grow up, I would respond “a mother and a writer.” My own mother tells the story of me coming home from second grade convinced that I was pregnant with a miracle since my teacher had been blessed with a miracle baby. To be a mom has been the deepest yearning of my soul.
A little over 8 years ago, I experienced a first trimester miscarriage – a blighted ovum. At the time the loss felt very big but it was also the first time since my sister had passed that I felt hope. I was reminded during that brief pregnancy period that I wanted life. However, many things surrounding that circumstance were not right. I was told repeatedly “at least you know you can get pregnant.”
Fast forward to marrying the right guy and trying to get pregnant – not quite so easy. The infertility battle itself is full of grief. We spent our first year of marriage trying to fight infertility. Finally, after a successful IVF attempt we were blessed with two perfect babies. They had no chromosomal problems, they were growing perfectly, and each and every ultrasound we were able to distinguish their emerging personalities. I bought a home heart rate monitor and listened to them every night. We began purchasing all of the items for their nursery and to care for them. To say that we were excited does not begin to cover it. I have never in my life been as happy as when I was carrying those two babies, married to the man of my dreams. All of this was done while still working as a therapist and pursuing a PhD to research grief. My life finally felt like it was reaching its purpose.
The birth and death of my son and my daughter has shifted me. This time though I have all the information about grief, I have an internal therapist telling me what’s normal and how to be gentle with myself, and I still have an incredible support system. None of that changes the feeling of waking up each morning empty and longing for the children we tried so desperately to bring in this world though. Despite all the knowledge I can’t stop being angry at my body for failing me, again.
So I am back here, writing. After we lost Rachael I threw myself into creative writing. Before the loss I had done journalistic writing. As a kid I wanted to write children’s books. In the last few years I have been writing research. So here I am writing again in hopes to somehow work through this pain.
Today we celebrate what would have been my sister’s 30th birthday. We don’t really have anything planned, because my family’s whole focus had been on preparing for my wedding. I chuckled to myself imagining how she would have chided me about that; how she would’ve teased and pretended to be bothered, but still been by my side the whole way. When we were little girls we used to both count down to my birthday because it began our season of joy. My birthday, then three weeks later her birthday, then within a week Thanksgiving, then a few weeks later Christmas and then the New Year. These were incredibly joyous times for our family – we love the holidays and food and gift giving and time together. R really loved the holidays and I can still hear her excitedly telling me that my birthday was around the corner. She wasn’t just excited for me but for us – our season was coming.
It wasn’t planned to put our wedding day in the middle of that season as much as it was of need for a venue, but I am so happy that it is now incorporated into this time of year. Our wedding day was beautiful. Truthfully the greatest wedding I have ever been to, and possibly everyone feels that way about their day. But it was an amazing congregation of all the people in our lives that are important to us supporting our connection to each other. When D looked at me and promised: “I choose to love you every day,” my heart swelled with pride and peace knowing that from this day through forever we would be family. Regardless of what life brings, he will forever be my family. He will be my “us” now.
I know that we both feared that we would feel a hole or sad on the day of without R and his mom, but we were so surrounded by love that it never felt that way. We took time to incorporate small, maybe not completely noticeable, celebrations of who they each were to us. And it just felt like they were there. Not every milestone has felt that way since R was taken from us. I struggled through my college graduation and first apartment and many others.
Grief is funny in the way that it will hit you at times and then one day you realize there are more times of peace – not less missing, just more peace. Somewhere along the way the holidays took their meaning back and her birthday feels more like a time to celebrate. I hope that this becomes true for D and his family as the years pass after his beloved mom’s death. She too loved the holidays and I have big shoes to fill in decorating the house for him and making sure there are adequate amounts of pie to be had. I think she would have loved the pie at our wedding.
I miss R every day, not with the same gut wrenching intensity, and I would still choose to have her here. I have cried a few times in this process – I think I will always cry for her, but the love and support and commitment of my family (old and new) has been a true reminder to revel in the seasons of joy.
In eight days we are get married. Married. In EIGHT days. If you can hear the nervous excitement in my words than you are reading this right. I don’t believe that I could have found a better partner for my life, but we are both aware that this is a huge life step. I’ve been thinking a lot about life steps this last month. I’ve also been thinking a lot about those that are not going to be stepping with us … at least not in the traditional sense.
October has been a whirlwind of a month. Just before the crisp air of this month settled in I traveled to Houston to visit some dear friends. I went carrying bridesmaid dresses and spent some time reenergizing. All the feelings of being drained from my internship (which I have since replaced, but that is a story for a different time), those feelings washed away as I sat with my very dear friends and laughed and drank wine and cried and braided hair and laughed some more.
On the Saturday of my visit, my dear friend and sweet cousin accompanied me to R’s gravesite. I hadn’t been since I move from Houston, nearly 8 years ago. I imagine the place often, will close my eyes and pretend to sit next to where her body rests. There was a nervous energy as we drove there – straight there, I remembered it exactly. Sarah brought beautiful silk orchids to place in her vase and Shee brought a bucket and cloths to wash her stone. There was a small toad living in the water of the vase that sits below where her feet rest. He popped his head out and I had to scoot him away just to get the flowers in. He never left though, just hopped two scooches over and waited. It was grounding - between the toad and the mosquitoes chomping on our legs to remind us that we were the living. We are the living. I miss her. I wish she were going to be here next week. But there was laughter and love and support as I scooped up a little dirt from her site to take home.
The next weekend, I boarded a plan with my dad and his girlfriend to attend my Uncle Steve’s memorial service in Olympia. The entire weekend was beautiful: We spent time with my aunts and uncles, who always leave me feeling enriched. We celebrated and learned about my Uncle Steve’s life. We visited my grandparents’ gravesites. We visited Tumwater falls where my Grandma used to take R and me. We drove by the little blue house that we lived in before we moved across the country.
We stood around my grandma and grandpa’s gravesite – my dad and M, my aunt M and uncle M, my uncle G and I all in a circle. I listened as they talked about their parents, the words bounced back and forth over their resting places between their three children, each with a slightly different experience. We discussed my upcoming marriage and the wonderful family I was marrying into. We talked about D’s mom and the legacy she left when she passed two years prior. The moment mimicked that feeling I had at R’s site a week before … I couldn’t quit place it, but it felt right, harmonizing, and comforting.
At my Uncle Steve’s memorial service several friends and family got up to speak.
An old friend of his got up and talked about when they would play music together. He described them turning back to back and beginning to play at the same time – without preplanned music, without discussing which notes to play, and without feeling the pressure of needing to play it right. He said that every time they somehow would be on the same page, they would feel what the other was going to do, and they would create beautiful music. When he asked Steve why that would happen, Steve replied “that’s ensemble.”
Ensemble. That’s it. The coordination of playing a tune together … “All the parts of a thing taken together, so that each part is considered only in relation to the whole.”
When my Aunt M spoke, I could feel my whole heart swelling in pain for her. The loss of a sibling hurts. It hurts in indescribable ways because it carries with it so much of your childhood, your identity, and a lot of the way you understand the world. That irreplaceable feeling of R swept over me. Then I thought about standing at her site with S&S, and earlier at my grandparents, and about the moments with them living, and about the man I was going to marry, and about the friends and family that would be there, and the ensemble kept growing. The musical arrangement of life is awe-some.
When we were little girls, R and I would not have to explain what the other was doing or thinking – not because we did and thought the same things, but because we knew how those fit together, instinctually. Some parts of the ensemble just flow on their own and other parts we practice and rehearse together. Either way, isn’t it worth listening?
We spent this last weekend on my fiancé’s family farm. I love the idyllic rows of corn and soybeans, the quiet mornings interrupted only by chirping, and most of all spending time with his family. Our dogs ran around without a care in the world and we ate more sweets than necessary. Our nieces, big A and little A, ran around, drove golf carts, and entertained us all. It is a beautiful life.
There is a bittersweet tinge in the air because his mom is no longer there with us. But she helped create this safe and harmonious household. More importantly, she ensured that her death was cushioned by an understanding that love doesn’t stop and that life continues on. Her mission was to show us how “to die well.”
I’m continually amazed at how celebratory each event that memorializes her is and how it still allows for grieving. My sister was ripped away from us … we didn’t have time to assimilate how to continue on, how to celebrate, or how to grieve gracefully. Perhaps that is why in moments that we memorialize their mother, I always take a moment to internally memorialize Rachael – to try to grasp on to the idea of celebrating her life.
As we drove by the cemetery this weekend my future-sister-in-law noticed that her mother’s tombstone had become soiled with grass clippings and general weather ware. She asked me to go with her and her girls to clean the tombstone off. Without tears, they piled a bucket and rags and soap in the car and we headed back. The girls giggled and asked who could use the squeegee first.
I can’t remember the last time I was able to even visit Rachael’s gravesite. It’s in an entirely different city than me now. Each visit always felt so crushing – staring at the 18 year time span marker, the empty spaces for my parents one day, and the flowers that were always dead from our last visit. But I do often think of what it would be like to sit with her under the willow tree that is so close by there …
I filled the bucket with water and poured it over the top of Becky’s stone. Momentarily my throat caught and I flashed to Rachael’s site and imagined washing the stone above her bones. Little A said, “What do you think Grandma is doing right now?” and I just looked at her, and without hesitation she said, “I think she is taking a bath right now.”
Just like that. A glorious reminder of connection that exceeds the boundaries of time and space - in her heart Grandma was doing the very thing that her little hands were helping with. That night I took time to mentally wash Rachael’s stone. I’m not there. Not right now anyways. But I don’t know that time or space truly matters when it comes to love.
My eyes flashed open this morning with the spinning thoughts of things I didn’t say eleven years ago. Even with time these things don’t go away. I’ve learned enough to know that all grief is different – that there is some similarity in the names to our emotions but that it isn’t experienced the same for everyone. I can tell you, for me, my family, and many members of the other families impacted that day, that time does not heal all wounds. The wounds do change, they do make room for new life (as I mentioned in my earlier post), but there are times where they still throb and ache. Today is one of those times. I allow myself to sob because I believe it helps cleanse the soul.
If you see my mom or my dad or my sister today please be extra kind. Please don’t make a big deal because that makes things uncomfortable, but just be extra kind. Or if you come across someone else that has suffered loss, has been the unfortunate victim of cruelty, or even someone whose story you don’t know, please just be extra kind today.
I used to write poetry in the early years of my grief. Not only was it my undergraduate major but a way of processing and releasing. I stopped writing poetry after we caught my sister’s murderer … I hope that changes one day. Below is a poem published in Carpe Articulum in 2011 that reminds me (and hopefully my family and the others) that there is still a piece of our loved ones with us always, and that death does not conquer life.
A Separated Existence
Intensity furrows the brow
that stares back from flat glass
and she is searching me searching her
for a sign of existence.
We sit staring at my dark circled eyes
and empty gaze
between the space before my breath
meets her glassy face.
Crouched across the countertop
I remember when the only image
that proved me
When we as little girls stared
into each other’s faces
and balanced the circles on our palms.
During nameless games we took off
running the opposite direction
and collided on the other side of the wall.
With our fingers wrapped
in each other’s we went running
to the back bedroom -
to dolls, to imagination.
And you and I would create
their fragile lives, and they would
complete each other
from day one till the end of time.
I search now this face
to look for dents from your forehead,
her eyes move with mine
and we cannot see you.
I can’t stare at her
lonely face anymore.
I can’t stare at eyes that reflect
a soul depleted from your absence.
So I crawl down from my countertop
and place these cold feet
on the carpet floor – as I am turning,
I see your expression cross my face.
And I am plastered to this glass
writing the story of how
we hung on past death.
* ps the artwork combined with these poems was really lovely and if I can figure out how to upload the photo (all rights reserved) I will do so.
I’m getting married this year. Actually, I’m getting married in just under 4 months. This is a huge life thing - a “for the living” life thing. This last weekend I had my bachelorette party. Despite the fact that we are in the anniversary season, that this coming Friday marks 11 years since my sister’s murder, and that in all previous years I have attempted to wipe July off my calendar … despite all of these things, I celebrated this upcoming life milestone. But it wasn’t without immense reminders from my support system that life is bigger than loss.
Before I explain what I mean, I want to send thank you to my dad who loaned us his lake house, took my friends on boat rides, and fed us two big meals. Thank you to my mom who organized a revealing of the dream dress she had customized for me. And so many thank you’s to my sister, who worked tirelessly, thoughtfully, and openheartedly to create a weekend of memories. They all did this during the anniversary season. They all put a life celebration together for me, even while the all silently ached for R to be there. It never showed, but I know. Their support lifts me up and reminds me of the amazing survival we have all exhibited. We are here, we are alive, and dammit we are celebrating it.
I am also ever so grateful to all of the friends who came out and especially to those who flew across the states, those who spent hours making gummies, those who brought goodies and played games … you are all so incredibly special to me.
Loss can take and incredibly toll on some of us. It can take years to feel as though you are thriving more than surviving. But I truly believe that the difference between those two comes from the support systems that you allow to be in your life. I do believe it is an allowance for these things – every one who came out to celebrate with me (besides my dear family) came in to my life after I had lost R. I had to make a careful decision to let me heart open to each and every one of them. Because when you are so badly bruised and mangled from the loss of your best friend it is incredibly difficult to want to have any one else in your heart. But without these people, I would not be thriving. Without some of these women, I would not have even considered dating my fiancé. Without them, I wouldn’t have even begun to explore how my greatest loss could help someone. Without them, I would have lost who I was, who I am, and who I have the potential to become.
SW (one of my bridesmaids) asked me about the anniversary season when we were finishing a morning jog before heading to the lake house. She did so gently and in a way to feel out how I was doing. Why this weekend? Well, because the dress fitting was scheduled and the lake house was open. Those are the practical reasons why. But then the words came out of my mouth before I had time to process them … “because this year, despite missing R so much, I decided I am going to look life in the face and embrace it.”
It has been a few weeks since I have written here. Nothing seemed appropriate after my last post. The ten-year anniversary came and went (as the anniversaries always do) and there was still no profound change in the status quo. But … my grief is different; it does change as the years pass. The changes are subtle from day to day, week to week, and perhaps only more noticeable when I look back on the years.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Helen Keller – she said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” If you are in the beginning of your grief you may be frustrated with this thought. That’s okay. In my first few years, I was agitated anytime someone told me that the pain of losing such an integral part of my life would ever be assuaged. How could it?
I would never discount your pain by saying that “time heals” or “things will get better with time.” I won’t stretch to say that my definition of “better” and yours will ever match – this is your loss.
However, I can attest that it will change, it will become bearable, and you will change with it. The suffering of it will end. There will be days that your heart wrenches when you wish they were present to experience a piece of life with you - but eventually those will be mere moments in the scope of your life. You will not be crippled by this painful loss – not permanently.
I may not know your loved one but I believe that there is infinite wisdom in the life after this. There is one other quote that I often read and reread because it feels like Rachael would want me to live this: “Think of all the beauty still left around and be happy” (Anne Frank). I hope that one day, maybe not today, that you too will read those words and say, “ok.”
In a couple days it will officially be ten years since Rachael was stolen from us. This anniversary gnaws at my insides. Ten years. She’s been dead for a third of my life. Eventually, I will have more photos and memories that do not include her. It’s confusing and overwhelming to try to integrate her loss into the grand scheme of my life. I grieve her.
But, what is grief? Is it possible for this one word to describe the full range of emotions related to life without her? Losing her? Living with her death? At my teen grief group we talk about grief being a journey or a weight – that it’s different for everyone. What does that really mean?
Grief is described medically as the natural response to loss – most usually in states of bereavement. It is cataloged by a variety of internal emotional responses, behaviors and even physical reactions. Most famously, grief is described in stages (shock, denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance). But many grief counselors will tell you that these stages are deceiving and not all-encompassing. Grief can trigger greater psychological disturbances like depression and anxiety or physical stresses like a suppressed immune system. Grief can get complicated and messy. Grief can also be normal with the simple complication of learning to live without the presence of your loved one.
I understand the logical description of grief. I get the charts of emotional responses and the therapeutic checklists of normal versus complicated. But how do we describe what grief feels like? How do we define grief in terms of our own lives?
In A Grief Observed, C.S Lewis beautifully and candidly states, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” And it does feel like fear; it feels like all expectations and beliefs and plans must be re-examined with no definitive answers. Some other ways that we describe grief in metaphor are:
As a Journey. Perhaps the idea of stages, cycles, and varying emotional states is what makes grief feel so much like a pathway to some solution. Often, when we look at grief as a journey it feels as though we are searching for where it takes us … to the end. As though somehow it is a constant exploration. Life is, more accurately, a journey. I think of grief as being part of a persons journey-story, and sometimes that part prevails. And sometimes that part is lessened with time. And sometimes it passes through life’s journey in stages or cycles. And sometimes it does not.
As a Weight. Grief is also often described as a weight. The emotions that develop from the absence of our loved can feel heavy, weighty, and distressingly suffocating. But this weight can, and in most healthy grief developments will, become easier to bear. One woman described grief as a brick that she stuck in her pocket. She said in the beginning the weight of the brick in her pocket was overwhelming. She was constantly aware of its presence. With time, she became used to the brick’s weight and some days even forgot it was there. But it did not go away because her loved one was not un-dead; it simply integrated into her life and she learned to live.
Tonight the best I can do is to say that “grief” is the only word I have to describe the space between Rachael and I. Whether I journeyed here, or I’m feeling the weight in my pocket; whether I’m examining fear or spinning through stages; grief, tonight, feels like a deep distance between us. As though I am standing on one precipice and staring across an expanse that sheds no light on the facing cliff, where I believe she is standing and staring back. I can’t hear her or see her and I don’t know how far away she is – but I do, with every ounce of my being, believe she is out there. So in ten years, I’m still over here looking out there. I still grieve her. And despite the mountain of new memories and photos, I still look across hoping that she is silently and invisibly still a part of it all.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
© Tiffany Kann and Loss & Life, 2013-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tiffany Kann and www.lossandlife.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.